What comes before a tough act of a Cirque du Soleil performance
The highs of a Cirque du Soleil performance are just a glimpse of the endless hours of preparation, and careful mental and physical discipline that its performers endure
Standing in the VIP lounge, one of the publicists for the organisers of Cirque du Soleil's Bazzar, says, "Often when we see the artistes stretching in the tent, we say 'The most we stretch is in our own beds on Sunday morning'." The ones in the lounge with the corporate jobs — where sitting hunched over backlit computers can only be offset by ergonomically designed chairs, screens that are placed at eye level and a constant effort to ensure that the mouse doesn't lead to carpal tunnel — laugh. But, Cirque, the Canadian touring production, has, since it arrived in Mumbai in November, introduced us to "the possibilities of the human body".
Been there yet? If you have, you'll remember the roller-skating act in which Mathieu Cloutier, 32, and Myriam Lessard, 30, spin on the stage. At one point, Lessard is hanging by a band that's supporting her neck even as she spins in the air with Cloutier turning on the wheels of the skates. Cloutier responds to a barely concealed admiration for the feat with a matter-of-fact "just like you went and studied for your job at a school, we trained for ours."
Aleksandr Likin and Philipp Kuznetcov perform Icarian Games (foreground)
The Canadian was once an ice hockey player, who accompanied a friend as a 20-year-old to an audition for a role at the circus. The friend who was vying for the role didn't get the job, but Cloutier landed with a new career. It's at the school, in fact, that he first met his now wife Lessard. Friends for the most part, the two, we are told, started dating only four years ago. The couple, in fact — previously acrobats and trapeze artistes — came up with the roller skating act so that they could travel together.
And while they have the act in their pocket, it still takes daily conditioning — 1.5 hours for Lessard and 45 minutes for Cloutier — before the show. "It's not just to heal the body, but to also prevent injuries," says Lessard, who grew up in Quebec. Importantly, she adds, she also prevents injuries for the partner. "If I get injured, he can't perform either," she says, giving a whole new perspective to their partnership.
Myriam Lessard and Mathieu Cloutier spend between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours before every performance, conditioning their body to prevent injuries
Take, for instance, the Russian cousins Aleksandr Likin, 33, and Philipp Kuznetcov, 29. Kuznetcov is a man of few words and Likin, who first introduced himself as Sasha, does most of the talking because Kuznetcov's English isn't very good. But, their act crosses language barriers. Called the Icarian Games, it is a gravity-defying routine that involves two performers juggling the other two in the air like balls. It's something that Likin and Kuznetcov have been practicing as kids. Likin says his is a circus family. His father is also a performer and Likin went onstage for the first time when he was nine. Kuznetcov was 10 when he made his debut.
And while the job is their life — it's taken them to almost everywhere, aside from Australia and New Zealand — it also requires sacrifice. For starters, Kuznetcov can't eat anything he wants. "If I put on weight," says the man who does the mid-air jumps, landing on Likin's feet, "his knees will get injured." And if you thought watching the diet should be easy (balance a dessert with a salad) the two men can't indulge in their favourite sport either. "We can't run a lot because it will hurt the knees, and we can't play football," says Likin. Kuznetcov, who needs to protect his back, has to hold back from cycling, long hours of which can hurt.
Hula hoop performer Melodie Lamoureux
And where the body needs to be active, can the mind be far behind? Cloutier talks of keeping the mind active between shows. "After a show, the adrenalin is high and then there's a slump, but to keep it high for the next one hour, we need to stay active," he adds. So, in this break, the duo tries new acrobatic skills. For Melodie Lamoureux, a hula hoop performer, yoga is her go-to workout. A trained gymnast and ballet dancer, Lamoureux turned to the hoop only five years ago. The former trapeze artiste says, her act requires manipulation. "But, I can't be nervous or very excited. I have to manage that, else the hoop will fall out of the hand and go into the audience," she laughs. Yoga has helped her stay centred.
At the artistes' tent at BKC's MMRDA Grounds where Cirque holds fort till December 9, she adds, there is gym equipment and a coach regularly conducts pilates sessions to help the performers stay in shape. It does sound glamorous. But there's an emotional tax to travelling around the world through the year — family and friends are back home. Cloutier and Lessard admit they at least have each other while on the road.
During the break between the Mumbai and Delhi performances, they fly to Austria, in search of both friends and winter — it's 33ºC even in the shade here and 1ºC back home, remark the two (but Lessard we hear isn't troubled as much by the Mumbai's faux winter as Cloutier is). Likin, however, will travel back home, where he will finally get to meet his month-and-a-half old daughter. "My wife was part of the show but had to take a break after she got pregnant." Kuznetcov, hopes one day he and his wife, can be on the road together.
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